Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The mysterious secret dining rooms of 19th Century Paris

During my college years, I became very interested in the work of Guy de Maupassant; more than often his Parisian elite protagonists would meet in one of the many small private dining rooms that Parisian restaurants were made of at the end of the 19th Century. 

Maupassant had the art to describe those mysterious rooms, heavily decorated, filled with crystal and silver and where aspiring politicians would meet and seduce whoever they needed to progress amongst the Parisian elite. 

I had vivid images of those hidden rooms where waiters had to knock at their doors; where silver cloches were lifted; where boiseries were covered of picture frames made of different type and colours. 

So when I was planning to open my restaurant and first visited 21 Romilly street in Soho, it suddenly reminded me of Maupassant’s description. 

It was then very easy for me to decide as to how this restaurant should look like; how the rooms should be decorated of and how the overall image of the restaurant should be. 
Gauthier Soho is to me the most intimate and unique succession of small dining rooms in Soho. Somewhere Bel Ami would have felt at ease to persuade Newspaper editors and seduce their partners!

If you've never considered Gauthier Soho for your private event, do get in touch, even if you're only sketching up some ideas. 
Please call Samuel on 0207 494 3111 or email him at s.aiglon@gauthiersoho.co.uk.
We'd love to bring your plans to life.

Alexis Gauthier

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wine knowledge for the rest of us - Dino Joannides

In a series of 'wine knowledge for the rest of us' interviews with industry friends and colleagues, we've asked Italian food expert and restaurant lover Dino Joannides to share a few tips based on his personal wine tastes.

Dino Joannides

There is an awful lot of wine out there. Where do you start when thinking about what to drink?

For me wine should always be drunk with food so what you are going to eat is the starting point. Old world wines are generally easier to match with food especially European food as generally they have less alcohol and more acidity.

People often talk about feeling daunted about huge extensive wine lists in restaurants. Any tips for making a decent choice in this situation?

It is a good idea to do some homework many wine lists are on restaurant web sites, booking sites or apps so you can view them before going for your meal.

As you’ve got older, what’s changed in your tastes?

I prefer to drink lighter more complex reds like great Burgundy now and more top German Rieslings , the latter are wonderful with spicier cuisines like Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and Indian.

Any wines you avoid?

I avoid very oaky Chardonnay and over extracted reds from both old and new world.

An often cited gripe for restaurant customers is feeling the sommelier is forcing his own agenda on the customer, regardless of the customer’s wishes. As a customer, how would you get round this?

If you do engage with a Sommelier it helps if you are clear about your preferences especially regarding how much you are willing to spend and the style of wine you like as well as what you will be eating - a good Sommelier should be able to take these points on board and hopefully provide you advice that will lead to a a great wine experience. 

Good wine service is one of the key factors in ensuring a customer considers returning over and over again.

You must have had some high points over the years and tasted some special bottles. Any particular stories?

I have been very fortunate to have sampled some really outstanding wines all over the world.  Special bottles include Chateau Latour 1961 ,Vieux Chateau Certan 2006, Corton Charlemagne Coche Dury 2005, Isola e Olena Cepparello 2007, Ridge Montebello 1998, Domaine Economou Oikonomoy, Sita 1999, Salon Cuvee "S' Clos Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs 1996.

Dino Joannides is Author of Italian food bible Semplice, and Director of wine assistant app Corkscrew - www.getcorkscrew.co.uk

Gauthier wines is offering a superb Italian baby Super Tuscan - Mirapiana Maremma Toscana 2014

Friday, April 07, 2017

Wine knowledge for the rest of us: Oisin Rogers

In a series of 'wine knowledge for the rest of us' interviews with industry friends and colleagues, we've asked legendary London landlord Oisin Rogers to share a few tips based on his personal wine tastes.

Image credit: Hot Dinners

GW: There is an awful lot of wine out there. Where do you start when thinking about what to drink?

O.R.: Although I do know a fair amount about wine I'll readily admit my knowledge is very far from extensive. There is so much to know before becoming any way competent in wine. For me though, as my palette is not amazing, wine is about stories, about memories of places I've been and dreams of where I'd like to go. When a friend or staff member takes me a bottle from their travels or I see a great bottle from a journey I've done, that's something I'll enjoy drinking, and I look out for bottles I've enjoyed before.

As you’ve got older, what’s changed in your tastes?

There's no doubt that exposure to great wine at work has affected everything I think about wine. Having the chance to taste top wines and vintages allows me to take a view on what I'll drink when I'm out or if I'm cooking at home. I enjoy full-bodied punchy reds a lot more than I used to and lots of adventures in Northern Italy , Austria and Spain has given me a love of the wines from those bits of Europe.

Any wines you avoid?

I avoid everything natural or orange. They all taste like cheap cider to me and I've witnessed a good friend unexpectedly jump over a wall and disappear after having had a feed of some vile orange artisan crap.

An often cited gripe for restaurant customers is feeling the sommelier is forcing his own agenda on the customer, regardless of the customer’s wishes. As a customer, how would you get round this?

Stick to your price point and have an idea what wine you'd like to drink with your food choice. If it's not on the list any decent somm should be able to suggest something similar. I've never been upsold to something I didn't want to pay for and suspect this is a myth

You must have had some high points over the years and tasted some special bottles. Any particular stories?

My friend Paul found a case of mixed 1960s wine in his father's garage. Among it was a 1968 chateau Latour. I was born in that year so he took it to the pub and opened it on my birthday. It was an extraordinary wine made all the more excellent by the generosity and fellowship of my friend.

I also love amarone, having visited Allegrini and Masi on my travels. It's hard to match it with food because it's so rich and distinctive. The unique grape-drying process is extraordinary. I like to have a bottle between main and cheese to share on special occasions.

Oisin Rogers is Landlord of The Guinea Grill, Mayfair.
From its wine list, Gauthier Wines is offering the superb Chateau de Parenchere Bordeaux Superieur.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tripadvisor - The restaurant's best friend

Boo! Hiss! Everybody stand up and denounce the villain of the restaurant industry: Tripadvisor. It’s shit, right? All those pompous gits, whining and complaining, with their made-up reviews sabotaging the competition, what a bunch of wankers. Ban it! 
I’m the first to admit, Tripadvisor is a pain in the arse at the best of times. An unregulated, unelected free-for-all, lawless pit of self-important judgement, like the wall of graffiti in the school toilets, but written by people who read The Daily Express.
Sure, It has its fair share of idiots and bullshitters. There’s also the clichéd vision of the typical Tripdavisor reviewer, very similar to mine, which is a cross between Nigel Farage and Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles. The idea that anyone the least bit informed or cool would use Tripadvisor is a bit of a joke, or that’s how we all like to imagine. It’s also the root of all restaurant marketers’ problems, with the dreaded ‘one star review’ morning notification welcome less than a tequila hangover. 
But has anyone taken the time to look beyond the criticism, and analysed the real impact and influence of such a behemoth on this industry? 
My personal enthusiasm for the dreaded TA is well-known. Quite often I’ve stood up in restaurant marketing discussions and been the sole lonely voice making the case for everyone’s favourite pain in the arse. So I’m going to stick my head on the block and make the case: 
If you’re a restaurant, Tripadvisor has to be your friend.
One of the most interesting things is how quickly we’ve all adopted the online review as part of life, like they’ve always been there. TripAdvisor began its life in 2000. To get an idea of how early this was, Google only moved out of their garage the year before, and Facebook and twitter wouldn’t happen for 5 years. It was never intended to be about users’ opinions. 
Originally it was to focus on a mix of official words from guidebooks or critics reviews in newspapers and magazines. A helpful digital combination of all. So far so good, everything works fine, just like many other guides.
Then one day, someone added a little button for visitors to add their own reviews, famously the feature Amazon pioneered only a couple of years previously for books. 
Take-up went crazy. Website visits and registered users skyrocketed. Do you know what happened? People were more interested in the user opinion than the ‘professional’ opinion.
Basically: welcome to the world, the user-review.
As a restaurant marketer I’ve been trying to make sense of guest influence in restaurants for 20 years, and I don’t think I’m alone in believing the user review has been the single biggest game changer in restaurant marketing in that time.
What’s clear to me is this: People trust other people.
People trust people like themselves. It’s part of the opinion consensus, the internet or specifically Tripadvsor has simply provided a platform for this.
The old media has obviously been disparaging: you don’t have to look far to find journalists sneering at ‘hoi polloi’ and their basicness. See how they guffaw at Mr Smith and his good lady wife from Tunbridge Wells, the ‘opted for’/‘melt-in-the-mouth’ brigade. It’s the same snooty attitude which is heaped on ‘comment warriors’, the same ‘comment warriors’ who have driven arguably the biggest revolution in how media effectively earns money since the battle of Wapping in 1986.
But this self-satisfied sneering needs to be watched. AA Gill seems almost Luddite now when heard quoting ‘Citizen Journalism’ back in 2010.’ (00.23)
‘Would you trust a citizen dentist?’ he cries, chuckling smugly to himself (I love how he proudly puts journalists in the same bracket as the medical profession). His ‘leave it to the professionals’ point is a good one, and granted not simply taking about critics, but sadly this attitude all sounds a bit twentieth century now. 
Let’s start with the addressing the usual complaints about TA. To begin, we hear a lot about the ‘no control’ angle. Nothing we can do, no reasoning etc etc. What’s funny to me is how nobody has a problem when they get a nice review. Only when they get a bad one. So instead of thinking about the reason someone posted it, they moan about TA like it’s got something in for them. Like having a suggestions box, not liking the suggestions, so you shout at the box. And don’t start the ‘but that’s not public information’ argument. This is 2016. Transparency is King. 
Another argument frequently trotted out is, ‘if you have a complaint, you should make it at the time’. 
Well, call me British, but I’m not one of those people who likes to treat every commercial or hospitality experience as a live confrontation session for raising problems with service. I go out to enjoy myself. Nobody likes the complainer, not your friends, guests, colleagues or anyone else. The only people who complain in restaurants are frankly arrogant, self-entitled tossers who relish this pathetic bit of power they manage to uncomfortably ejaculate over some poor young server. No, normal people keep these things to themselves. 
Now that the restaurant industry has begun to realise the user review cannot be ignored, its time to think cleverly about the positives. TA is quite possible one of the industry’s best sources of feedback one could ever wish for. 
It was Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall Street’ who famously said ’the most valuable commodity I know of is information’. Well, feedback is your information. We all know it’s crucial, which is why every serious consumer business in the world invests so heavily in it. Tripadvisor gives people the best chance to let you know what you are doing right or wrong, and that information should be relished. Ignore it at your peril.
Lastly, there is customer loyalty. Think about the process of leaving that review. The guest has paid their bill, then left, gone home, and then taken the quite boring and tedious process of entering their review. They really wanted to do this. Why? Quite honestly I don’t know myself. But they do. Good or bad (but usually good, it has to be said) the urge to share is there. If it is a bad point they want to share, we have to consider why they want to do this. Spite? Pure vengeance? I’m not sure. I like to think it’s mostly a cry for help. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve contacted guests after they’ve left bad reviews, reasoned with them, killed problems with kindness, and they’ve become our best ambassadors and most loyal regulars to this day. People feel let down, unloved perhaps. TA gives you the chance to love them again.
I believe what we have to accept is Tripadvisor and the user review is here to stay. The way I see it is its all part of an evolving situation. Tripadvisor is not perfect, but if you are looking for pure unbiased guidance then neither is the highly corrupt PR/Journalist self-preserving model that has existed in old-world press and reviews for years. People are not stupid, they don’t go to Tripdavisor for the last word, it just provides another opinion. 
And maybe they just love reading the hilarious home-made reviews about Nazi Maitre d’s and dirty loos in hotels.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Big Dipper comes to Soho

From Monday 6th June until 10th June 2016, Gauthier Soho will be supporting Soho Create festival with a special food offering designed just for Soho Create.

The BIG DIPPER is a classic French dip sandwich of pastrami and caramelised onions served with a pot of deliciously rich Gauthier Soho beef jus for dipping and soaking, evoking the 1950s spirit of Soho - indulgent, ephemeral and fun.
The price will be £7.

As a goodwill gesture to our neighbours in Soho, on Wednesday we're giving 
Big Dippers to all Soho workers & residents a 25% discount!

Big Dipper + Pint of Sambrook's Pale Ale or Glass of Soho Red £10

Simply turn up at the stand and give us proof of work, address, business card etc, quoting this offer.

See you there!

Our stand will be serving our Gauthier Soho house red wine, the 

2012 Blauburger Soho Red at £5 by the glass, 

as well as local craft beer in the form of the fabulous Battersea brewers 

Sambrooks Pale Ale on draught £5 Pint / £3 half.


Monday June 6th until Friday June 10th. 11am-8.30pm every day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Funniest Tripadvisor review ?

The funniest review of my favourite restaurant.
The reviewer is clearly gifted- hilarious recollection of an attempting meal at La Petite Maison in Nice.
It reminded me so many good memories there....

“A once in a lifetime experience...”
1 of 5 starsReviewed 27 August 2015
One immediately knows that something special awaits when, a couple of days before the big day, one calls the restaurant to confirm a reservation which has been made several weeks in advance. A sort of conversational quick-step begins when I confirm that I have a reservation, but want to double check whether it is for 8pm or 8:30pm. “What time would you like” comes the reply; “What time is the reservation for?” I respond; “Well what time would you like?” again they ask… After 2 minutes of this back and forth I confirm that our party of 5 will be there at 8pm and hang up with a growing sense of anticipation (or was it trepidation…). The day itself arrives and in our best glad-rags we made our way over to the restaurant; the follow up to the telephone tango did not disappoint. Upon arrival at the restaurant we walked through the front terrace up to the main reception whereupon I was reassured to see that, given recent terrorist activity around the world, they obviously took clients’ safety very seriously – we were greeted by a row of stony faced security personnel, cunningly disguised as waiters, who scrutinized us up and down before parting to reveal the manager, the formidable “Nicole”, described by the French press as a “personality”… With her diminutive head of security by her side, she glanced over at us and, as Emperor Titus, waived her thumb in the direction of a table delightfully situated just off the main entrance, at the foot of a large staircase, laid for 4 people. While I was particularly enchanted by the proximity to the stairwell, the view of the service hatch, and the close physical contact this location afforded us of people entering and leaving the restaurant as well as the comings and goings in the stairwell, what sold me was the fact that this was a multi-functional table featuring a large bread hamper at one end, which the waiters frequently flocked to whilst replenishing clients’ bread baskets. My party, however, were less impressed and stated that not only was the table not set up for 5, but that it was terribly located and that we would prefer another one in the room which at this stage still stood half empty (8pm). It was at this stage that we could fully appreciate the French sense of humour, so often misunderstood. Our request raised a reaction tinged with hilarity and horror. The Lady herself, followed by her diminutive minion, walked among the empty tables, pointing randomly and audibly muttering how this one was booked for “Mr Le Juge”, and the other for “Mr le Prefet”. Whilst we truly appreciated the guided tour of “who’s who” of the restaurant seating plan, this did little to help our case and, still standing in the middle of the restaurant waiting to be seated, my party were growing impatient. After a few more minutes Nicole muttered that there were no other available tables, which the minion repeated as the words had not been spoken to us directly, to which he added that this was a very good table. I am sure that Mr Le Prefet, when he finally arrived at the restaurant, asked to be moved given that our table was so much better than the one that had been earmarked for him! I do hope that Nicole did not feel slighted by our decision to turn down their kind offer of such a delightful table, I myself am rather partial to an animated dining experience and enjoy the feeling of people jostling my chair throughout a meal, watching the activity around the service hatch, and having fresh bread so readily available. I particularly appreciated the manner with which, as we were leaving the restaurant, one of the waiters uttered “see you soon” with a charming smirk on his face. As for the food, I unfortunately cannot comment on this, which is a shame given that La Petite Maison in London is one of our favourite restaurants, however if the food is on par with the service at this Nice establishment, I would go as far as saying that this is an experience which cannot be equaled...
  • Visited August 2015

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Service Charge Debate: A view From the Inside

As a time of year when one of the most important questions in our generation is being considered and debated- remaining or leaving Europe- something rather trivial for all of us is getting some interest in the media:
Shall we force restaurants to include service charge in their pricing?

I have been thinking about this for a while and having ran a restaurant in a country where service is included (France) I am getting quite worried about the impact on employees rather than employers those changes will ultimately have; unless we look in depth about how it might affect peoples lives, things should not be rushed just because a spoilt food pundit is having an existential tantrum. 

At the moment, “his” annoyance of having an extra line on a restaurant bill adding 12.5% service charge is the main problem. One could wonder why this has not been factorized already in the price of the meal but I think a lot more thinking has to be put into this to decide ultimately if this arrangement needs to be changed.

So this what currently happens in a British restaurant: 
An employer usually pays his employees minimum wages per hour and then allows a Tronc master to distribute usually between 90 to 100% of the total discretionary service charge collected via credit card, cheque or cash payments (which is 12.5% of a total restaurant bill ex VAT). 
A tronc scheme is something serious and follows strict guidance from HMRC. 
A tronc master who is usually elected by employees (who have probably left long time ago) decides who earns what (as point or percentage of the amount collected) and distribute the money accordingly. 

Because HMRC accepts that service charge is not a safe income, there is no NI contribution on the amount paid from the Tronc and a fixed % on income regardless of the amount. It is a great benefit for an employee who can receive a share of income tax discounted. But again, for small earners who only collect a tiny portion of service charge, one way or the other does not make much difference. From the employer side, the saving from using this method is quite small.
However, for those who collect a big chunk of the Tronc, this is like earning your salary in Panama.

In fact, there is no maximum as to how much you can pay yourself from the tronc.
Say, if a restaurant collects £20,000 of Tronc money per month and the Tronc master decides to keep half of that for himself; there is nothing stopping him from doing so. Imagine earning more than £120,000 per year (on top of your minimum wage) only taxed at around 20%. Not bad.

There is no arguing that this arrangement is a massive carrot for top people in a restaurant and has helped to retain and motivate many of them and ultimately helped to make this country one of the most hospitable in Europe.

On the other hand, France who abolished “payment á la piece” many years ago, things are very different there.
Based on 35 hours a week, a minimum wage for a French waiter is equivalent to a British one (just over €9 euros per hours x35 against £7.20 x40); cost of National Insurance plus many other things pushes the price of employment to almost €18 an hour.
This makes an impossible mission for an employer to entice staff by offering them the opportunity to earn more by selling more; to earn more by being kinder to guests; to earn more by being flexible with guests…etc
Some might say that all of this should be standard- but sadly it is not the case.
Go and grab a lunch in a Paris brasserie and you’ll quickly understand that when there are no carrots, service suffers.
Employees are locked in their “service inclus” and quickly come to the conclusion that an ok service will pay them as much as an outstanding service.

The system currently in place here in UK is intelligent and works for both employers and employees. So as long as a Tronc system is not abused by greed - things should stay exactly as they are.